Metro Vancouver, BC - If Burns Bog has a saviour, it’s Eliza Olson. And today, her dedication to the region's wetlands was recognized with an honorary degree from Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU).
The first and only president of the long-established Burns Bog Conservation Society, Olson has worked tirelessly for more than 25 years, with minimal resources, to provide advocacy and education on the bog’s importance to the region’s flora and fauna, to the bird population of the entire continent, and to the overall ecology of the Fraser delta.
This afternoon, she walked across a KPU Surrey stage and delivered an impassioned speech in front of hundreds of graduates, many of whom have likely been alive for less time than Olson has been fighting for Burns Bog.
“She has persistently stood up to protect Burns Bog and the region’s wetlands from further encroachment,” said Dr. Alan Davis, president and vice-chancellor of KPU.
Davis says Olson represents the very best in sustained and dedicated service to the region, and he notes that much of her work aligns with KPU’s programming and scholarly interests. She frequently engages with students in KPU’s environmental protection technology program, and assisted them with the exercise of developing a draft peat removal bylaw.
For her part, Olson was thrilled to get the call from Davis a few weeks ago that she’d been named to receive an honorary doctorate; it took days for the good news to sink in.
“Not bad for a little kid from Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan, right?” she laughed.
In 1988, Olson became the founding president of the Burns Bog Conservation Society and in so doing engaged the broader community, government and various service agencies in discussions about the future of the largest raised peat bog on the west coast of North America. These initial discussions and the years of advocacy that followed ultimately resulted in the purchase of more than 2,000 hectares (5,000 acres) of Burns Bog by four levels of government in 2004. The purchase ensures the bog is protected and managed effectively as a natural ecosystem.
“Our organization, as small as it is, is probably the largest of its kind in B.C., and perhaps Canada, that focuses on peatlands,” says Olson. “Because peatlands only cover three per cent of the Earth’s surface, the issue of saving and protecting them is coming to the forefront of the United Nations and other countries like Ireland, the UK, Finland and Holland.”
Unlike great Douglas fir trees or vast tracts of rainforest, peatlands are small in stature and soggy in nature, made up of dead and decaying plants. Olson calls them the “littlest Lilliputians” because they store 10 times more carbon per hectare than rainforests.
Named a Champion of Change by CBC, Olson again claimed victory when the bog earned a Ramsar designation in 2012.
Olson is currently focused on creating a nature centre to offer a variety of indoor and outdoor programs focusing on the bog. She envisions an eco-tourism facility that would enhance the public profile of Burns Bog and ensure this unique wetland remains protected in perpetuity.
Photos from today's convocation ceremony are available on Flickr.
Honorary degrees are awarded to those honoris causa in recognition of dignified achievements or outstanding service to the public. Members of the university community and the community at large are invited to nominate candidates. Nominees are exceptionally distinguished scholars, creative artists, public servants, prominent people in the community and the professions, and others who have made significant contributions locally, nationally, or globally.
Kwantlen Polytechnic University has been serving the Metro Vancouver region since 1981, has close to 50,000 alumni, and has educated more than 250,000 people. Four campuses—Richmond, Surrey, Cloverdale and Langley—offer a comprehensive range of sought-after programs, including business, liberal arts, science, design, health, trades and technology, horticulture, and academic and career advancement. Over 19,000 students annually have a choice from over 124 programs, including bachelor’s degrees, associate degrees, diplomas, certificates citations and apprenticeships. Learn more at www.kpu.ca.